This year's Rugby League Varsity match will be taking place on Saturday (05/03) at Iffley Road in OxfordKane Smith/

Reuben Brown was one of the first people I met when I arrived in Cambridge. We stood next to each other for our college matriculation photo and later walked into town together for a night out. Chatting that evening, neither of us could have anticipated quite how much success Brown would have as part of Cambridge University Rugby League Football Club (CURLFC), as Vice-Captain last year and now as President.

Last March, the Green Lions won the Rugby League Varsity match for the first time in twelve years, earning them the Hawks’ Club title of “Team of the Year 2021”. I watch as Brown relives the victory: “It felt pretty amazing, especially after a year of Covid. We weren’t even sure whether that game was going to go ahead. We were training sometimes thinking it wouldn’t happen. So then to get the result was huge. Everyone felt like they had put so much work into it.” He laughs: “Even my mum was stood on the sidelines screaming.”

“[Winning] it in front of the crowd at Grange Road last year was just brilliant, but I’m more looking forward to doing it [in Oxford]”

More recently, with an 18-16 triumph against Oxford’s second team just over two weeks ago (09/02), CURLFC topped their BUCS league, South Eastern Tier 1, with a game in hand. It was a close match, Brown informs me, but marked another huge turning point for the team, being a position the team hadn’t held since 2014. Although Brown scored two of the tries that clenched the win, he remains humble and attributes the success to the club’s growth: “Traditionally it’s been quite a small squad,” he tells me, “but it’s been really good to get as many people involved as possible. We had a couple of new boys playing in that game who really stepped up.”

Brown is going into his second Varsity match after tasting victory in last year’s clashKane Smith/

Including that match, the team have won three of three matches played in Oxford this year, the other two coming against Brookes, and they certainly celebrated this properly: “As a club our mentality has always been: take ourselves very seriously when we play rugby but also enjoy the socials.” A team favourite, Brown shares, was their ‘muddy knees’ night out after a Wednesday evening game: “Unfortunately for everyone else, we all went to Revs without showering in our rugby shorts and shirts.”

“Looking left and right and knowing you can really trust these people, on and off the pitch, is something really amazing”

However, these successes mean expectations are high for another victory against the Dark Blue side this year, who the Green Lions will be facing on Saturday (05/03) in their annual Varsity match. “It’ll be a really close game,” Brown explains. “I think [Oxford] probably feel pretty confident. Their season has gone quite well too and it was a close game last year. But we really back ourselves to do it. We’re very keen to prove that last year wasn’t in any way a fluke.” When I ask if it will be a different experience from playing in front of a home crowd, Brown surprises me with his answer: “Doing it in front of the crowd at Grange Road last year was just brilliant, but I’m more looking forward to doing it there. We’ve never actually won at Iffley Road, their ground. I think it’ll be so satisfying.”

What stands out to me most, regardless of its successes, is how much Brown has gained on a personal level due to being involved in CURLFC. He raves about the strength of the relationships he has formed with the players around him: “There’s been several occasions off the top of my head this year when either I’ve had something happen where I’ve wanted to chat to someone about it, or other people have had stuff happen and I’ve spoken with them.” He pauses, as if imagining himself in a training session: “Looking left and right and knowing you can really trust these people, on and off the pitch, is something really amazing. It’s not even necessarily that these boys are your best mates, but you know it’s an environment where you rock up and there’s thirty of you who just trust each other. It’s so valuable.”

Cambridge will look to make it two successive wins following their historic snap of a 12-year losing streakKane Smith/

On top of achieving two Varsity victories next month, for both the first team and the reserves, who narrowly missed out last year, Brown’s main goal as President is strengthening the club or, as he puts it, ‘leaving the shirt in a better place’: “This year particularly we’ve really built that squad mentality, which I think is what makes the team really special. We’ve got boys who don’t drink, boys who like a couple of beers, people who are scientists, do humanities, it doesn’t really matter: it’s a really close knit community. I think there’s a lot of people coming from rugby clubs around the country who haven’t found that, and I think that’s why there’s a lot of people in Cambridge who probably choose not to play rugby.”


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Quite the opposite, Brown – and his predecessor Elliot Stockdale – have made sure that CURLFC is an accommodating environment, providing support in all aspects of university life: “As a club, we’re quite understanding when people have deadlines and try to work around that as much as possible”. The team even has a Google Drive of players’ notes across all subjects, a source of help for freshers who might be struggling to settle into the academic demands of their degree. “It’s probably helped my work life balance rather than crippled it”, Brown reflects.

There is a lot about Brown that hasn’t changed at all since we first met, standing next to each other in our gowns for that photo. He is still kind, humble, and driven. But there is a lot that has changed too, and I am sure that he would attribute most of it to being a part of CURLFC. In his words: “It’s a club where you really get out what you put in”.

Tickets can be purchased for this year’s Rugby League Varsity match here.